Archive for the ‘crawling and indexing’ Category

More Precise Index Status Data for Your Site Variations

Webmaster Level: Intermediate

The Google Webmaster Tools Index Status feature reports how many pages on your site are indexed by Google. In the past, we didn’t show index status data for HTTPS websites independently, but rather we included everything in the HTTP site’s report. In the last months, we’ve heard from you that you’d like to use Webmaster Tools to track your indexed URLs for sections of your website, including the parts that use HTTPS.

We’ve seen that nearly 10% of all URLs already use a secure connection to transfer data via HTTPS, and we hope to see more webmasters move their websites from HTTP to HTTPS in the future. We’re happy to announce a refinement in the way your site’s index status data is displayed in Webmaster Tools: the Index Status feature now tracks your site’s indexed URLs for each protocol (HTTP and HTTPS) as well as for verified subdirectories.

This makes it easy for you to monitor different sections of your site. For example, the following URLs each show their own data in Webmaster Tools Index Status report, provided they are verified separately:

The refined data will be visible for webmasters whose site’s URLs are on HTTPS or who have subdirectories verified, such as https://example.com/folder/. Data for subdirectories will be included in the higher-level verified sites on the same hostname and protocol.

If you have a website on HTTPS or if some of your content is indexed under different subdomains, you will see a change in the corresponding Index Status reports. The screenshots below illustrate the changes that you may see on your HTTP and HTTPS sites’ Index Status graphs for instance:

HTTP site’s Index Status showing drop
HTTPS site’s Index Status showing increase

An “Update” annotation has been added to the Index Status graph for March 9th, showing when we started collecting this data. This change does not affect the way we index your URLs, nor does it have an impact on the overall number of URLs indexed on your domain. It is a change that only affects the reporting of data in Webmaster Tools user interface.
In order to see your data correctly, you will need to verify all existing variants of your site (www., non-www., HTTPS, subdirectories, subdomains) in Google Webmaster Tools. We recommend that your preferred domains and canonical URLs are configured accordingly.
Note that if you wish to submit a Sitemap, you will need to do so for the preferred variant of your website, using the corresponding URLs. Robots.txt files are also read separately for each protocol and hostname.
We hope that you’ll find this update useful, and that it’ll help you monitor, identify and fix indexing problems with your website. You can find additional details in our Index Status Help Center article. As usual, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in our webmaster Help Forum.

Posted by Zineb Ait Bahajji, WTA, thanks to the Webmaster Tools team.

Faceted navigation best (and 5 of the worst) practices

Webmaster Level: Advanced

Faceted navigation, such as filtering by color or price range, can be helpful for your visitors, but it’s often not search-friendly since it creates many combinations of URLs with duplicative content. With duplicative URLs, search engines may not crawl new or updated unique content as quickly, and/or they may not index a page accurately because indexing signals are diluted between the duplicate versions. To reduce these issues and help faceted navigation sites become as search-friendly as possible, we’d like to:


Selecting filters with faceted navigation can cause many URL combinations, such as http://www.example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&price=5-10&price=over-10

Background

In an ideal state, unique content — whether an individual product/article or a category of products/articles —  would have only one accessible URL. This URL would have a clear click path, or route to the content from within the site, accessible by clicking from the homepage or a category page.

Ideal for searchers and Google Search

  • Clear path that reaches all individual product/article pages

    On the left is potential user navigation on the site (i.e., the click path), on the right are the pages accessed.

  • One representative URL for category page
    http://www.example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies

    Category page for gummy candies

  • One representative URL for individual product page
    http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish

    Product page for swedish fish

Undesirable duplication caused with faceted navigation

  • Numerous URLs for the same article/product
    Canonical Duplicate
    example.com/product.php? item=swedish-fish example.com/product.php? item=swedish-fish&category=gummy-candies&price=5-10

    Same product page for swedish fish can be available on multiple URLs.

  • Numerous category pages that provide little or no value to searchers and search engines)
    URL example.com/category.php? category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&price=5-10 example.com/category.php? category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&price=over-10
    Issues
    • No added value to Google searchers given users rarely search for [sour gummy candy price five to ten dollars].
    • No added value for search engine crawlers that discover same item (“fruit salad”) from parent category pages (either “gummy candies” or “sour gummy candies”).
    • Negative value to site owner who may have indexing signals diluted between numerous versions of the same category.
    • Negative value to site owner with respect to serving bandwidth and losing crawler capacity to duplicative content rather than new or updated pages.
    • No value for search engines (should have 404 response code).
    • Negative value to searchers.

Worst (search un-friendly) practices for faceted navigation

Worst practice #1: Non-standard URL encoding for parameters, like commas or brackets, instead of “key=value&” pairs.

Worst practices:
  • example.com/category?[category:gummy-candy][sort:price-low-to-high][sid:789]
    • key=value pairs marked with : rather than =
    • multiple parameters appended with [ ] rather than &
  • example.com/category?category,gummy-candy,,sort,lowtohigh,,sid,789
    • key=value pairs marked with a , rather than =
    • multiple parameters appended with ,, rather than &

Best practice:

example.com/category?category=gummy-candy&sort=low-to-high&sid=789

While humans may be able to decode odd URL parameters, such as “,,”, crawlers have difficulty interpreting URL parameters when they’re implemented in a non-standard fashion. Software engineer on Google’s Crawling Team, Mehmet Aktuna, says “Using non-standard encoding is just asking for trouble.” Instead, connect key=value pairs with an equal sign (=) and append multiple parameters with an ampersand (&).

Worst practice #2: Using directories or file paths rather than parameters to list values that don’t change page content.

Worst practice:
example.com/c123/s789/product?swedish-fish
(where /c123/ is a category, /s789/ is a sessionID that doesn’t change page content)

Good practice:

example.com/gummy-candy/product?item=swedish-fish&sid=789 (the directory, /gummy-candy/,changes the page content in a meaningful way)

Best practice:

example.com/product?item=swedish-fish&category=gummy-candy&sid=789 (URL parameters allow more flexibility for search engines to determine how to crawl efficiently)

It’s difficult for automated programs, like search engine crawlers, to differentiate useful values (e.g., “gummy-candy”) from the useless ones (e.g., “sessionID”) when values are placed directly in the path. On the other hand, URL parameters provide flexibility for search engines to quickly test and determine when a given value doesn’t require the crawler access all variations.

Common values that don’t change page content and should be listed as URL parameters include:

  • Session IDs
  • Tracking IDs
  • Referrer IDs
  • Timestamp

Worst practice #3: Converting user-generated values into (possibly infinite) URL parameters that are crawlable and indexable, but not useful in search results.

Worst practices (e.g., user-generated values like longitude/latitude or “days ago” as crawlable and indexable URLs):

  • example.com/find-a-doctor?radius=15&latitude=40.7565068&longitude=-73.9668408

  • example.com/article?category=health&days-ago=7

Best practices:

  • example.com/find-a-doctor?city=san-francisco&neighborhood=soma

  • example.com/articles?category=health&date=january-10-2014

Rather than allow user-generated values to create crawlable URLs  — which leads to infinite possibilities with very little value to searchers — perhaps publish category pages for the most popular values, then include additional information so the page provides more value than an ordinary search results page. Alternatively, consider placing user-generated values in a separate directory and then robots.txt disallow crawling of that directory.

  • example.com/filtering/find-a-doctor?radius=15&latitude=40.7565068&longitude=-73.9668408
  • example.com/filtering/articles?category=health&days-ago=7

with robots.txt:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /filtering/

Worst practice #4: Appending URL parameters without logic.

Worst practices:

  • example.com/gummy-candy/lollipops/gummy-candy/gummy-candy/product?swedish-fish
  • example.com/product?cat=gummy-candy&cat=lollipops&cat=gummy-candy&cat=gummy-candy&item=swedish-fish

Better practice:

example.com/gummy-candy/product?item=swedish-fish

Best practice:

example.com/product?item=swedish-fish&category=gummy-candy

Extraneous URL parameters only increase duplication, causing less efficient crawling and indexing. Therefore, consider stripping unnecessary URL parameters and performing your site’s “internal housekeeping”  before generating the URL. If many parameters are required for the user session, perhaps hide the information in a cookie rather than continually append values like cat=gummy-candy&cat=lollipops&cat=gummy-candy&

Worst practice #5: Offering further refinement (filtering) when there are zero results.

Worst practice:

Allowing users to select filters when zero items exist for the refinement.


Refinement to a page with zero results (e.g., price=over-10) is allowed even though it frustrates users and causes unnecessary issues for search engines.

Best practice

Only create links/URLs when it’s a valid user-selection (items exist). With zero items, grey out filtering options. To further improve usability, consider adding item counts next to each filter.


Refinement to a page with zero results (e.g., price=over-10) isn’t allowed, preventing users from making an unnecessary click and search engine crawlers from accessing a non-useful page.

Prevent useless URLs and minimize the crawl space by only creating URLs when products exist. This helps users to stay engaged on your site (fewer clicks on the back button when no products exist), and helps minimize potential URLs known to crawlers. Furthermore, if a page isn’t just temporarily out-of-stock, but is unlikely to ever contain useful content, consider returning a 404 status code. With the 404 response, you can include a helpful message to users with more navigation options or a search box to find related products.

Best practices for new faceted navigation implementations or redesigns

New sites that are considering implementing faceted navigation have several options to optimize the “crawl space” (the totality of URLs on your site known to Googlebot) for unique content pages, reduce crawling of duplicative pages, and consolidate indexing signals.

  • Determine which URL parameters are required for search engines to crawl every individual content page (i.e., determine what parameters are required to create at least one click-path to each item). Required parameters may include item-id, category-id, page, etc.
  • Determine which parameters would be valuable to searchers and their queries, and which would likely only cause duplication with unnecessary crawling or indexing. In the candy store example, I may find the URL parameter “taste” to be valuable to searchers for queries like [sour gummy candies] which could show the result example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour. However, I may consider the parameter “price” to only cause duplication, such as category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&price=over-10. Other common examples:
    • Valuable parameters to searchers: item-id, category-id, name, brand
    • Unnecessary parameters: session-id, price-range
  • Consider implementing one of several configuration options for URLs that contain unnecessary parameters. Just make sure that the unnecessary URL parameters are never required in a crawler or user’s click path to reach each individual product!
    • Option 1: rel=”nofollow” internal links
      Make all unnecessary URLs links rel=“nofollow.” This option minimizes the crawler’s discovery of unnecessary URLs and therefore reduces the potentially explosive crawl space (URLs known to the crawler) that can occur with faceted navigation. rel=”nofollow” doesn’t prevent the unnecessary URLs from being crawled (only a robots.txt disallow prevents crawling). By allowing them to be crawled, however, you can consolidate indexing signals from the unnecessary URLs with a searcher-valuable URL by adding rel=”canonical” from the unnecessary URL to a superset URL (e.g. example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&price=5-10 can specify a rel=”canonical” to the superset sour gummy candies view-all page at example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&page=all).

    • Option 2: Robots.txt disallow
      For URLs with unnecessary parameters, include a /filtering/directory that will be robots.txt disallow’d. This lets all search engines freely crawl good content, but will prevent crawling of the unwanted URLs. For instance, if my valuable parameters were item, category, and taste, and my unnecessary parameters were session-id and price. I may have the URL:
      example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies
      which could link to another URL valuable parameter such as taste:
      example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour.
      but for the unnecessary parameters, such as price, the URL includes a predefined directory, /filtering/:
      example.com/filtering/category.php?category=gummy-candies&price=5-10
      which is then robots.txt disallowed
      User-agent: *
      Disallow: /filtering/

    • Option 3: Separate hosts
      If you’re not using a CDN (sites using CDNs don’t have this flexibility easily available in Webmaster Tools), consider placing any URLs with unnecessary parameters on a separate host — for example, creating main host www.example.com and secondary host, www2.example.com. On the secondary host (www2), set the Crawl rate in Webmaster Tools to “low” while keeping the main host’s crawl rate as high as possible. This would allow for more full crawling of the main host URLs and reduces Googlebot’s focus on your unnecessary URLs.
      • Be sure there remains at least one click path to all items on the main host.
      • If you’d like to consolidate indexing signals, consider adding rel=”canonical” from the secondary host to a superset URL on the main host (e.g. www2.example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&price=5-10 may specify a rel=”canonical” to the superset “sour gummy candies” view-all page, www.example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&page=all).
  • Prevent clickable links when no products exist for the category/filter.
  • Add logic to the display of URL parameters.
    • Remove unnecessary parameters rather than continuously append values.
      • Avoid
        example.com/product?cat=gummy-candy&cat=lollipops&cat=gummy-candy&item=swedish-fish)
    • Help the searcher experience by keeping a consistent parameter order based on searcher-valuable parameters listed first (as the URL may be visible in search results) and searcher-irrelevant parameters last (e.g., session ID).
      • Avoid
        example.com/category.php?session-id=123&tracking-id=456&category=gummy-candies&taste=sour
  • Improve indexing of individual content pages with rel=”canonical” to the preferred version of a page. rel=”canonical” can be used across hostnames or domains.
  • Improve indexing of paginated content (such as page=1 and page=2 of the category “gummy candies”) by either:
    • Adding rel=”canonical” from individual component pages in the series to the category’s “view-all” page (e.g. page=1, page=2, and page=3 of “gummy candies” with rel=”canonical” to category=gummy-candies&page=all) while making sure that it’s still a good searcher experience (e.g., the page loads quickly).
    • Using pagination markup with rel=”next” and rel=”prev” to consolidate indexing properties, such as links, from the component pages/URLs to the series as a whole.
  • Be sure that if using JavaScript to dynamically sort/filter/hide content without updating the URL, there still exists URLs on your site that searchers would find valuable, such as main category and product pages that can be crawled and indexed. For instance, avoid using only the homepage (i.e., one URL) for your entire site with JavaScript to dynamically change content with user navigation —  this would unfortunately provide searchers with only one URL to reach all of your content. Also, check that performance isn’t negatively affected with dynamic filtering, as this could undermine the user experience.
  • Include only canonical URLs in Sitemaps.

Best practices for existing sites with faceted navigation

First, know that the best practices listed above (e.g., rel=”nofollow” for unnecessary URLs) still apply if/when you’re able to implement a larger redesign. Otherwise, with existing faceted navigation, it’s likely that a large crawl space was already discovered by search engines. Therefore, focus on reducing further growth of unnecessary pages crawled by Googlebot and consolidating indexing signals.

  • Use parameters (when possible) with standard encoding and key=value pairs.
  • Verify that values that don’t change page content, such as session IDs, are implemented as standard key=value pairs, not directories
  • Prevent clickable anchors when products exist for the category/filter (i.e., don’t allow clicks or URLs to be created when no items exist for the filter)
  • Add logic to the display of URL parameters
    • Remove unnecessary parameters rather than continuously append values (e.g., avoid example.com/product?cat=gummy-candy&cat=lollipops&cat=gummy-candy&item=swedish-fish)
  • Help the searcher experience by keeping a consistent parameter order based on searcher-valuable parameters listed first (as the URL may be visible in search results) and searcher-irrelevant parameters last (e.g., avoid example.com/category?session-id=123&tracking-id=456&category=gummy-candies&taste=sour& in favor of example.com/category.php?category=gummy-candies&taste=sour&session-id=123&tracking-id=456)
  • Configure Webmaster Tools URL Parameters if you have strong understanding of the URL parameter behavior on your site (make sure that there is still a clear click path to each individual item/article). For instance, with URL Parameters in Webmaster Tools, you can list the parameter name, the parameters effect on the page content, and how you’d like Googlebot to crawl URLs containing the parameter.

    URL Parameters in Webmaster Tools allows the site owner to provide information about the site’s parameters and recommendations for Googlebot’s behavior.
  • Be sure that if using JavaScript to dynamically sort/filter/hide content without updating the URL, there still exists URLs on your site that searchers would find valuable, such as main category and product pages that can be crawled and indexed. For instance, avoid using only the homepage (i.e., one URL) for your entire site with JavaScript to dynamically change content with user navigation —  this would unfortunately provide searchers with only one URL to reach all of your content. Also, check that performance isn’t negatively affected with dynamic filtering, as this could undermine the user experience.
  • Improve indexing of individual content pages with rel=”canonical” to the preferred version of a page. rel=”canonical” can be used across hostnames or domains.
  • Improve indexing of paginated content (such as page=1 and page=2 of the category “gummy candies”) by either:
    • Adding rel=”canonical” from individual component pages in the series to the category’s “view-all” page (e.g. page=1, page=2, and page=3 of “gummy candies” with rel=”canonical” to category=gummy-candies&page=all) while making sure that it’s still a good searcher experience (e.g., the page loads quickly).
    • Using pagination markup with rel=”next” and rel=”prev” to consolidate indexing properties, such as links, from the component pages/URLs to the series as a whole.
  • Include only canonical URLs in Sitemaps.

Remember that commonly, the simpler you can keep it, the better. Questions? Please ask in our Webmaster discussion forum.

Written by Maile Ohye, Developer Programs Tech Lead, and Mehmet Aktuna, Crawl Team

Changes in crawl error reporting for redirects

Webmaster level: intermediate-advancedIn the past, we have seen occasional confusion by webmasters regarding how crawl errors on redirecting pages were shown in Webmaster Tools. It’s time to make this a bit clearer and easier to diagnose! While it used…

Smartphone crawl errors in Webmaster Tools

Webmaster level: all

Some smartphone-optimized websites are misconfigured in that they don’t show searchers the information they were seeking. For example, smartphone users are shown an error page or get redirected to an irrelevant page, but desktop users are shown the content they wanted. Some of these problems, detected by Googlebot as crawl errors, significantly hurt your website’s user experience and are the basis of some of our recently-announced ranking changes for smartphone search results.

Starting today, you can use the expanded Crawl Errors feature in Webmaster Tools to help identify pages on your sites that show these types of problems. We’re introducing a new Smartphone errors tab where we share pages we’ve identified with errors only found with Googlebot for smartphones.

Some of the errors we share include:

  • Server errors: A server error is when Googlebot got an HTTP error status code when it crawled the page.

  • Not found errors and soft 404s: A page can show a “not found” message to Googlebot, either by returning an HTTP 404 status code or when the page is detected as a soft error page.

  • Faulty redirects: A faulty redirect is a smartphone-specific error that occurs when a desktop page redirects smartphone users to a page that is not relevant to their query. A typical example is when all pages on the desktop site redirect smartphone users to the homepage of the smartphone-optimized site.

  • Blocked URLs: A blocked URL is when the site’s robots.txt explicitly disallows crawling by Googlebot for smartphones. Typically, such smartphone-specific robots.txt disallow directives are erroneous. You should investigate your server configuration if you see blocked URLs reported in Webmaster Tools.

Fixing any issues shown in Webmaster Tools can make your site better for users and help our algorithms better index your content. You can learn more about how to build smartphone websites and how to fix common errors. As always, please ask in our forums if you have any questions.

Posted by , Webmaster Trends Analyst

Indexing apps just like websites

Webmaster Level: Advanced

Searchers on smartphones experience many speed bumps that can slow them down. For example, any time they need to change context from a web page to an app, or vice versa, users are likely to encounter redirects, pop-up dialogs, and extra swipes and taps. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could give your users the choice of viewing your content either on the website or via your app, both straight from Google’s search results?
Today, we’re happy to announce a new capability of Google Search, called app indexing, that uses the expertise of webmasters to help create a seamless user experience across websites and mobile apps.
Just like it crawls and indexes websites, Googlebot can now index content in your Android app. Webmasters will be able to indicate which app content you’d like Google to index in the same way you do for webpages today — through your existing Sitemap file and through Webmaster Tools. If both the webpage and the app contents are successfully indexed, Google will then try to show deep links to your app straight in our search results when we think they’re relevant for the user’s query and if the user has the app installed. When users tap on these deep links, your app will launch and take them directly to the content they need. Here’s an example of a search for home listings in Mountain View:

We’re currently testing app indexing with an initial group of developers. Deep links for these applications will start to appear in Google search results for signed-in users on Android in the US in a few weeks. If you are interested in enabling indexing for your Android app, it’s easy to get started:

  1. Let us know that you’re interested. We’re working hard to bring this functionality to more websites and apps in the near future.
  2. Enable deep linking within your app.
  3. Provide information about alternate app URIs, either in the Sitemaps file or in a link element in pages of your site.

For more details on implementation and for information on how to sign up, visit our developer site. As always, if you have any questions, please ask in the mobile section of our webmaster forum.

Posted by , Product Manager

Video: Expanding your site to more languages

Webmaster Level: Intermediate to Advanced We filmed a video providing more details about expanding your site to more languages or country-based language variations. The video covers details about rel=”alternate” hreflang and potential implementation on your multilingual and/or multinational site.

Video and slides on expanding your site to more languages

You can watch the entire video or skip to the relevant sections:

Additional resources on hreflang include:

Good luck as you expand your site to more languages!Written by , Developer Programs Tech Lead

5 common mistakes with rel=canonical

Webmaster Level: Intermediate to Advanced Including a rel=canonical link in your webpage is a strong hint to search engines your about preferred version to index among duplicate pages on the web. It’s supported by several search engines, including Yahoo!, Bing, and Google. The rel=canonical link consolidates indexing properties from the duplicates, like their inbound links, as well as specifies which URL you’d like displayed in search results. However, rel=canonical can be a bit tricky because it’s not very obvious when there’s a misconfiguration.

While the webmaster sees the “red velvet” page on the left in their browser, search engines notice on the webmaster’s unintended “blue velvet” rel=canonical on the right.

We recommend the following best practices for using rel=canonical:

  • A large portion of the duplicate page’s content should be present on the canonical version.
  • One test is to imagine you don’t understand the language of the content—if you placed the duplicate side-by-side with the canonical, does a very large percentage of the words of the duplicate page appear on the canonical page? If you need to speak the language to understand that the pages are similar; for example, if they’re only topically similar but not extremely close in exact words, the canonical designation might be disregarded by search engines.

  • Double-check that your rel=canonical target exists (it’s not an error or “soft 404”)
  • Verify the rel=canonical target doesn’t contain a noindex robots meta tag
  • Make sure you’d prefer the rel=canonical URL to be displayed in search results (rather than the duplicate URL)
  • Include the rel=canonical link in either the <head> of the page or the HTTP header
  • Specify no more than one rel=canonical for a page. When more than one is specified, all rel=canonicals will be ignored.

Mistake 1: rel=canonical to the first page of a paginated series Imagine that you have an article that spans several pages:

  • example.com/article?story=cupcake-news&page=1
  • example.com/article?story=cupcake-news&page=2
  • and so on

Specifying a rel=canonical from page 2 (or any later page) to page 1 is not correct use of rel=canonical, as these are not duplicate pages. Using rel=canonical in this instance would result in the content on pages 2 and beyond not being indexed at all.

Good content (e.g., “cookies are superior nutrition” and “to vegetables”) is lost when specifying rel=canonical from component pages to the first page of a series.

In cases of paginated content, we recommend either a rel=canonical from component pages to a single-page version of the article, or to use rel=”prev” and rel=”next” pagination markup.

rel=canonical from component pages to the view-all page
If rel=canonical to a view-all page isn’t designated, paginated content can use rel=”prev” and rel=”next” markup.

Mistake 2: Absolute URLs mistakenly written as relative URLs

The <link> tag, like many HTML tags, accepts both relative and absolute URLs. Relative URLs include a path “relative” to the current page. For example, “images/cupcake.png” means “from the current directory go to the “images” subdirectory, then to cupcake.png.” Absolute URLs specify the full path—including the scheme like http://. Specifying <link rel=canonical href=“example.com/cupcake.html” /> (a relative URL since there’s no “http://”) implies that the desired canonical URL is http://example.com/example.com/cupcake.html even though that is almost certainly not what was intended. In these cases, our algorithms may ignore the specified rel=canonical. Ultimately this means that whatever you had hoped to accomplish with this rel=canonical will not come to fruition. Mistake 3: Unintended or multiple declarations of rel=canonical Occasionally, we see rel=canonical designations that we believe are unintentional. In very rare circumstances we see simple typos, but more commonly a busy webmaster copies a page template without thinking to change the target of the rel=canonical. Now the site owner’s pages specify a rel=canonical to the template author’s site.

If you use a template, check that you didn’t also copy the rel=canonical specification.

Another issue is when pages include multiple rel=canonical links to different URLs. This happens frequently in conjunction with SEO plugins that often insert a default rel=canonical link, possibly unbeknownst to the webmaster who installed the plugin. In cases of multiple declarations of rel=canonical, Google will likely ignore all the rel=canonical hints. Any benefit that a legitimate rel=canonical might have offered will be lost. In both these types of cases, double-checking the page’s source code will help correct the issue. Be sure to check the entire <head> section as the rel=canonical links may be spread apart.

Check the behavior of plugins by looking at the page’s source code.

Mistake 4: Category or landing page specifies rel=canonical to a featured article Let’s say you run a site about desserts. Your dessert site has useful category pages like “pastry” and “gelato.” Each day the category pages feature a unique article. For instance, your pastry landing page might feature “red velvet cupcakes.” Because the “pastry” category page has nearly all the same content as the “red velvet cupcake” page, you add a rel=canonical from the category page to the featured individual article. If we were to accept this rel=canonical, then your pastry category page would not appear in search results. That’s because the rel=canonical signals that you would prefer search engines display the canonical URL in place of the duplicate. However, if you want users to be able to find both the category page and featured article, it’s best to only have a self-referential rel=canonical on the category page, or none at all.

Remember that the canonical designation also implies the preferred display URL. Avoid adding a rel=canonical from a category or landing page to a featured article.

Mistake 5: rel=canonical in the <body> The rel=canonical link tag should only appear in the <head> of an HTML document. Additionally, to avoid HTML parsing issues, it’s good to include the rel=canonical as early as possible in the <head>. When we encounter a rel=canonical designation in the <body>, it’s disregarded. This is an easy mistake to correct. Simply double-check that your rel=canonical links are always in the <head> of your page, and as early as possible if you can.

rel=canonical designations in the <head> are processed, not the <body>.

Conclusion To create valuable rel=canonical designations:

  • Verify that most of the main text content of a duplicate page also appears in the canonical page.
  • Check that rel=canonical is only specified once (if at all) and in the <head> of the page.
  • Check that rel=canonical points to an existent URL with good content (i.e., not a 404, or worse, a soft 404).
  • Avoid specifying rel=canonical from landing or category pages to featured articles as that will make the featured article the preferred URL in search results.

And, as always, please ask any questions in our Webmaster Help forum. Written by Allan Scott, Software Engineer, Indexing Team

A new opt-out tool

Webmasters have several ways to keep their sites’ content out of Google’s search results. Today, as promised, we’re providing a way for websites to opt out of having their content that Google has crawled appear on Google Shopping, Advisor, Flights, Ho…

We created a first steps cheat sheet for friends & family

Webmaster level: beginner

Everyone knows someone who just set up their first blog on Blogger, installed WordPress for the first time or maybe who had a web site for some time but never gave search much thought. We came up with a first steps cheat sheet for just these folks. It’s a short how-to list with basic tips on search engine-friendly design, that can help Google and others better understand the content and increase your site’s visibility. We made sure it’s available in thirteen languages. Please feel free to read it, print it, share it, copy and distribute it!

We hope this content will help those who are just about to start their webmaster adventure or have so far not paid too much attention to search engine-friendly design. Over time as you gain experience you may want to have a look at our more advanced Google SEO Starter Guide. As always we welcome all webmasters and site owners, new and experienced to join discussions on our Google Webmaster Help Forum.

Posted by Kaspar Szymanski, Search Quality Strategist, Dublin